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Restructuring His Approach

Restructuring His ApproachTufts' Masoud Sanayei says the events of Sept. 11 have raised many questions about how to train the next generation of architects and engineers.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.14.02] Masoud Sanayei's job is to train engineering students at Tufts about how skyscrapers stand up and why they fall down. But the nationally renowned structural engineering expert says the events of Sept. 11 changed everything, prompting him to reexamine his approach to training the next generation of engineers and architects.

"Many of the students have been affected," Sanayei said in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen published today. "Especially here in the Northeast, many of them have friends and family in New York. It is very hard to decide whether it is best for the students to jump in and do a lot of analysis [of the crashes], or let time digest this a little bit more before we do that."

Without a doubt, the collapse of the World Trade Center towers will define the way engineers and architects approach new skyscraper projects. And Sanayei has helped train many of the experts who will tackle them.

"It's a small community of engineers that designs, builds and maintains skyscrapers in Boston and New York, and many of them come through professor Sanayei's course at Tufts on Skyscrapers: Architecture and Engineering," reported the Citizen.

But that class, and others Sanayei teaches in Tufts' Civil and Environmental Engineering department, will certainly change.

"I feel as academics, as professionals, we should address the problems [in the classroom setting], but I want to do it at a time when my students are comfortable," he told the newspaper. "I often think about this, and this is an area in academia that we approach with caution because we're dealing with students."

With the spring semester just days away, Sanayei is reshaping his classes to balance the new issues facing structural engineering with the emotions many of his students still feel about the disaster.

"I'm scheduled to teach a course in structural dynamics -- how buildings shake when they're hit by something, or when there is high wind or earthquakes," he told the Citizen. "I am debating how much of the World Trade Center I want to put in there. It may be hurtful to them."

And the Tufts professor knows, first-hand, how painful the events of Sept. 11 were for his students.

Just hours after the towers collapsed in New York, Sanayei was supposed to lead a class on structural analysis.

"That was the hardest day of teaching," he said. "I told the class, look, I can teach like normal, or I can cancel the class. And there was no response. They were just pale. They were there, but they were not there. Then it just dawned on me -- I asked them 'Do you have any family or friends in New York?'"

One-third of the class silently nodded their heads. "They couldn't speak it out," he told the Citizen, explaining their silence.

His students left in shock that day, but they returned with a stronger commitment to their field of work.

"I am amazed: they outperformed all the other classes I have taught in 15 years here at Tufts in terms of hard work and collaboration, pulling it together, helping each other out," Sanayei said. "They talk a lot, they support each other."

Already, some of the Tufts students have put their knowledge from Sanayei's class into use.

"Some of his students work for companies in the Boston area that have branches in New York," reported the Ottawa Citizen. "Those students who are sent to New York come back talking about how burnt out they were when they came back, facing the reality of Ground Zero, and the challenges they have every day."

But they haven't given up.

"It is hard," Sanayei said. "It has been a difficult semester, but it has brought us better together somehow."

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